Paul Tiesse – Identity and Awareness

“Homosexuality was really a foreign concept.” 

How I identify? Oh gosh. I never really thought about that. Well, obviously a white male, Roman Catholic, probably middle-class to upper-middle class working person. Gosh, I don’t know what else. I never look at it in terms of sexuality at all. You know, everybody has sexuality. That’s just part of it. I don’t say, “Hi. I’m Paul Tiesse. I’m a gay white man, or something.

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[When I was growing up] there was no really “homosexuality,” or “gays,” or anything like that. I think growing up, you didn’t really have a term for it. Although euphemisms, such as “fag” came into play later on . . .

I always knew, I think. I don’t know if “attracted to boys” would be correct because, at [a very young] age you don’t really know about attraction or anything yet. Especially with boys, there’s always sexual experimentation. Who knows if that’s just part of growing up or if that’s going to be part of your sexuality? I just remember the first time I felt attraction to a boy was when we were playing war. This sounds horrible! . . .

We were playing war; I got shot. He had to fix me up, and I felt some attraction towards that. I still remember that, even though I was probably eight or nine, maybe ten, years old. That’s the first time I ever thought about that. Or remember that instance [of] attraction towards another male, boy. I hate to say “boy,” because that sounds creepy: I was a boy too. [Another time,] in grade school, an older kid hit me because we were fighting about something. He called me a “faggot,” but I don’t think we even knew what that meant back then. We didn’t even know what the “F-word” [i.e., “fuck”] was, until some kid transferred from West Virginia to Spokane, to our school, and he used it all the time. That’s how naïve we were.

When I was in the sixth or seventh grade, my parents sent me to a speech therapist. I have the typical gay speech pattern, kind of “feminine.” I still remember the exercises from that speech therapist, to pronounce S’s right and R’s right. Thinking back, I probably didn’t realize, “Why am I going to a speech therapist?” I think it could be because my teachers maybe recommended it or something. I don’t know. That that was back in the ‘60s.

There were some instances, when I was in eighth grade, of boys being molested by an owner of a restaurant downtown. And the priest called certain boys into the basement of the rec hall to interview them. I never got called in, which I thought was always weird. Obviously, I never had any connection. I found out later on, from friends, why they were in there. So that was maybe an introduction to male-on-male doing something. But, I didn’t know why [they were being called in]. Also, . . . this is going to sound horrible too! . . . In the Boy Scouts—probably from age 11 up to 14 or 15—there was a lot of sexual experimentation in my troop. A lot. We didn’t think of it as being “homosexual” or anything. In fact, all the people that I still know from that time—you don’t talk about it obviously—are straight. I haven’t kept in contact with all of them. All of them, but maybe one, is straight, as far as I know. Like I said, back then you didn’t really equate it with homosexuality.

We were pretty naïve, I guess. Of course, sexuality, back then, your parents never talked to you about it. I would walk to school with my neighbor who was a girl. I’m still friends with her. She was a very smart girl. I would ask her all these questions, and she would answer them for me. I could never figure out, you know, because you’re a kid, “Well, how do you know when you’re supposed to do it?” and things like that. She told me a little bit about sexuality, between a man and a woman. Your parents never, ever did. Then, the first time I had a wet dream, I didn’t know what was going on. I about freaked out. I don’t know how old I was, maybe 12 or something. I had no idea what was going on. It just freaked me out. Really, growing up here in Spokane in the ‘60s, especially in a private school—I can’t talk about public school—but it was a pretty innocent time.

I really don’t remember what happened after that in terms of finding out what happened, what was sexuality, or whatever. I don’t [remember]. Which is weird, I guess. I guess [it was] because it wasn’t that big of a deal. We really didn’t have any sex ed or anything. I don’t know. In fact, I don’t even know how we started to experiment when we were kids. It could’ve been just that I found out through that or something. All I know is, I was always interested in boys and seeing them naked. At the same time, you were supposed to be with the girls. So you always did stuff [with girls].

I went to an all-male [high] school. I didn’t have any problems, really, going to an all-male school. Actually, out of my class there probably ended up being—of 125 boys—there were probably about five or six who have come out later on in life, that I know of. There could be more.

My first date . . . I don’t know if I was a freshman or a sophomore in high school. I remember my mom took me down to pick [the girl] up. She went to one of the all-girls schools. I always went to the appropriate dances: the winter formal and, you know, maybe something in the spring. I went to the senior prom and things like that, because you were supposed to. The thing is, I think I always knew I was different. If I made a move on a girl—I kissed her or something—I felt really proud of myself or cool. I’d want to tell my friends, “Oh, we kissed,” or something, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Then I felt like, “Oh, I’m normal.”

[During] high school—besides the Boy Scouts stuff—I probably had sexual contact with only three or four people. Most of it was in freshman year, although [there was a boy in the neighborhood] who I had a sexual relationship when we were young. He’s a priest. Not one of those weird type of priests, but he’s a priest. He would never admit to being gay, even though I think he probably is. He was my constant throughout high school. But in terms of news or whatever, you never read or heard anything [about homosexuality]. Homosexuality was really a foreign concept.

Even at WSU, transitioning into college, you didn’t really hear much about it. Obviously, I was still attracted to guys. I’d go to the [WSU] library and there’d be The Advocate, a newspaper back then, in the library. They’d have enticing pictures of men and other things like that. Then, of course, Playgirl was really big back then. Everybody had a Playgirl. I remember this one guy telling me, “Yeah, you know, I don’t mind a couple of pictures, but we all have the same equipment, so it doesn’t really do anything for me.” He was straight obviously.

I had some infatuations with guys in [college], but back then you didn’t act on them, because it wasn’t cool. I actually had a girlfriend: dated probably three or four girls through that four-year period. But mostly, at WSU, everything was a group. I lived in a co-ed dorm, so we always did group stuff. When I moved off campus, I had a girlfriend, my senior year, I think. My thing basically was, after a while, I wouldn’t contact them anymore. I think a lot of it had to do with I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next in terms of, “Are you supposed to get married?” Or “Are you supposed to do this?” I guess I was pretty naïve in some aspects, but I think a lot of people were like that too.

[If] I did something [with a girl], I could show off, or be a normal person. I had fun going out to dances or whatever—going out drinking. I think that the big thing that people don’t understand with being gay is that you can have sex with another person—I didn’t really have sex with that many women—but you can have sex with them. But it has to be some type of emotional bond. I never had one with women really. I mean, you kissed them, or made out, because you were supposed to. You could get turned on by it, but there wasn’t that emotional bond that you feel towards another person, that you feel with the same-sex person.

[I expected] to get married [to a woman], have kids, and whatever. That’s what you saw on the movies, on TV, and what is expected of you by society. Even after college, when I worked at [my family’s grocery] store, I had a group of friends who’d you just go out drinking with, all male friends—nothing sexual at all. They were there to pick-up women. I was under the pretense of doing that too probably, although I never did. It wasn’t good, bad, or indifferent. It was just the way life was. You know, you’re 21, 22. You go out and have a good time. Conquering somebody in bed, male or female, was not really a priority.

I remember—I don’t remember how old I was, might’ve been in my thirties—just looking up in the sky saying, “When am I going to get married?” Or, “Why can’t I meet somebody?” Or “Why are you so different?” Something like that. I think as I got older, especially when you hit your mid to late 30s . . . And, of course, by then it was 1980, or ‘90, and things were changing. Then you realize, “Oh, I want something more than just this life.” That’s probably when I delved more into the “gay arena.”

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[In the 1970s], I didn’t know any gay people. Or at least I didn’t know if they were gay. So your perception of gay people were what you saw in porn. They were all good looking people, you know, with muscles or whatever. So later on, in reality, you’re kind of disappointed, “Oh, there are fat people.” That’s what your perception was, because that’s what you saw on the films. A lot of the films were also kind of documentary-type films, so they were real people. They were always good looking people. So that was kind of a disappointment. [Laughs.]

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Source: Interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 15 November 2013.